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FIRST DIVISION

PEOPLE OF THE PIDLIPPINES, G.R. No. 233535


Plaintiff-Appellee,

Present:

BERSAMIN, C.J.,
- versus - DEL CASTILLO,
JARDELEZA,
GESMUNDO,* and
CARANDANG, JJ.

WILLIAM RODRIGUEZ y Promulgated:


BANTOTO,
Accused-Appellant. JUL ·o 1 2019
X - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - L'f.JIJJJJ!A!'II

DECISION

DEL CASTILLO, J.:

This is an appeal filed by accused-appellant William Rodriquez y Bantoto


(accused-appellant) from the March 9, 20 l 7 Decision I of the Court ·of Appeals
(CA) in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 08151, which affirmed the February 2, 2016
Decision2 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) ofManila, Branch 2, in Criminal Case
No. 13-298732 finding accused-appellant guilty of violation of Section 5, Article II
of Republic Act (RA) No. 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive
Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

The Factual Antecedents

Accused-appellant was charged with violation of Sections 5 and 11(3),


Article II of RA 9165 under the following Informations:

Crim. Case No. 13[-]298732

That on or about July 27, 2013, in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said .h
[accused-appellant] conspiring and confederating [with] ooc, whose true nam1/Z:.ef
• On official leave.
1
Rollo, pp. 2-13; penned by Associate Justice Danton Q. Bucser and concurred in by Associate Justices
Apolinario D. Bruselas, Jr. and Renato C. Francisco.
2
CA rollo, pp. 37-45; penned by Presiding Judge Sarah Alma M. Lim.
Decision 2 G.R. No. 233535

real identity and present whereabouts is still unknown and mutually helping each
other, not authorized by law to sell, trade, deliver, transport or distribute any
dangerous drug, did then and there willfully, unlawfully, knowingly and jointly
sell or offer for sale to a police officer/poseur buyer one (1) heat-sealed transparent
plastic [sachet] marked as 'DAID' [containing] white crystalline substance
weighing ZERO POINT ZERO SEVEN (0.07) gram, which after qualitative
examination x x x gave positive result to the tests for Methamphetamine
Hydrochloride known as 'shabu,' a dangerous drug.

Contrary to law. 3

Crim. Case No. 13[-]298733

That on or about July 27, 2013, in the City of Manila, Philippines, the said
[accused-appellant], not being authorized by law to possess any dangerous drug,
did then and there willfully, unlawfully, and knowingly have in his possession and
under his custody and control five (5) unsealed transparent plastic sachet[s] with
markings 'FSM,' 'FSM-1,' 'SM-2,' 'FSM-3' and 'FSM-4' containing white
crystalline substance weighing ZERO POINT ONE SEVEN (0.17) gram, ZERO
POINT ONE ZERO (0.10) gram, ZERO POINT THREE TWO (0.32) gram,
ZERO POINT ZERO ZERO THREE (0.003) gram and ZERO POINT ZERO
TWO (0.02) gram, or a total weight of ZERO POINT SIX ONE THREE (0.613)
gram, which after qualitative examination x x x gave positive result to the tests for
Methamphetarnine Hydrochloride known as 'shabu,' a dangerous drug.

Contrary to law. 4

Upon arraignment, accused-appellant pleaded not guilty to the crones


charged. 5

Version ofthe Prosecution

According to the prosecution, on July 26, 2013 at around 6:00 p.m., two crew
members of the investigative program, Imbestigador ng Bayan (Imbestigador),
went to the Manila Police District, District Anti-Illegal Drugs (DAID), to inform
the police about the rampant selling of drugs in the area by accused-appellant and a
certain alias Dang. After verifying the information with their Confidential
Informant (CI), the DAID formed a buy-bust team with PO3 Fred Martinez (PO3
Martinez) as poseur-buyer. The DAID then coordinated with the Philippine Drug
Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

Thereafter, on July 27, 2013, at around 1:15 a.m., the buy-bustteam, together
with the crew members of Imbestigador and the CI, proceeded to the pension house
on M.G. Del Pilar Street where accused-appellant and Dang were residing. Upon~
3

4
Records, p. 2.
Id. at 3.
/
5
CA rollo, p. 38.
Decision 3 G.R. No. 233535

arrival, Dang approached the CI, who introduced PO3 Martinez as a buyer of
1!500.00 worth of shabu. Dang then brought them inside the pension house where
PO3 Martinez saw accused-appellant and several unsealed plastic sachets on top of
the table. After Dang introduced PO3 Martinez to accused-appellant, PO3 Martinez
then handed the marked money to the accused-appellant, who, in turn, gave PO3
Martinez one plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance. Upon receiving
the sachet, PO3 Martinez gave the pre-arranged signal to the buy-bust team who,
together with the crew members of Jmbestigador, rushed in and arrested accused-
appellant. But because of the commotion, Dang was able to get away. PO3
Martinez then recovered the buy-bust money and five unsealed plastic sachets on
top of the table. The sachet bought from the accused-appellant was marked as
"DAID" while the five sachets found on top of the table were marked as "FSM,"
"FSM-1," "FSM-2," "FSM-3," and "FSM-4." Barangay Tanods Sonny Boy
Rodriguez (Rodriguez) and Joseph Caeg (Caeg) were called to the scene to sign the
inventory because the crew members of Imbestigador refused to sign. Photographs
of the evidence were also taken. The accused-appellant was then brought to the
Ospital ng Maynila for medical examination and later to the DAID. Once there, the
police prepared the request for laboratory examination and the chain of custody
report. PCI Alejandro de Guzman (PCI de Guzman) received the request and
conducted a laboratory examination, which yielded positive for methamphetamine
hydrochloride. 6

Version ofthe Accused-appellant

The accused-appellant denied the accusations against him. He testified that


on the said date, he was resting inside the pension house when he heard a noise from
the door. When he opened the door, four or five persons rushed into the room and
poked their guns at him. He was told to lie face down on the bed and was
handcuffed. He then saw drugs on the table but denied knowing where those drugs
came from. He was then brought to the Ospital ng Maynila, and later to the DAID. 7

Ruling ofthe Regional Trial Court

On February 2, 2016, the RTC rendered a Decision finding accused-


appellant guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of illegal sale of dangerous
drugs under Section 5, Article II of RA 9165. The RTC gave more weight and
credence to the testimonies of the prosecution's witnesses than to accused-
appellant's defenses of denial and frame-up, especially since accused-appellant
failed to show any ill motive on the part of the prosecution's witnesses to fal~=z _/4
accuse him of the crime charged. 8 However, the RTC resolved to acquit accus/b-"'-,
6
CA rollo, pp. 38-42.
7
Id. at 42.
8
Id. at 43-45.
Decision 4 G.R. No. 233535

appellant of the crime of illegal possession of dangerous drugs under Section 11,
Article II of RA 9165 on the ground of reasonable doubt because the identity and
the integrity of the five unsealed plastic sachets were not preserved due to the failure
of the police officers who handled the evidence to seal the same and to put this fact
on record. 9 Thus -

WHEREFORE,judgment is hereby rendered as follows xx x:

In Crim. Case No. 13-298732. finding [accused-appcllantJ William


Rodriguez y Banto to GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt of the crime charged and
is hereby sentenced to life imprisonment and to pay a fine of P-500,000.00, and

In Crim. Case No. 13-298733. ACQUITTING [accused-appellant]


William Rodriguez y Bantoto on the ground of reasonable doubt.

The specimens are forfeited in favoror


the government and the Branch
Clerk of Comi, accompanied by the Branch Sherill is directed to turn over with
dispatch and upon receipt [ot] the said specimens to the Philippine Drug
Enforcement Agency (PDEA) for proper disposal in accordance with the law and
rules.

SO ORDERED. 10

Ruling ofthe Court ofAppeals

Accused-appellant elevated the case to the CA chiefly on the ground that the
prosecution had utterly failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt the integrity and
credibility of the corpus delicti itself Accused-appellant highlighted the police
officers' non-compliance with the procedural safeguards under RA 9165 as the
inventory and photograph of the seized items were not done in the presence of a
representative from the Depmiment of Justice (DOJ). 11 Accused-appellant assailed
the utter failure of the prosecution to establish the unbroken chain of custody of the
confiscated items and the failure of the RTC to consider his defense of denial. 12

On March 9, 2017, the CA affirmed the RTC's Decision. The CA found


that, contrary to the claim of accused-appellant, the integrity and evidentiary value
of the seized items had been preserved in an unbroken chain of custody. 13 With
particular reference to the accused appellant's allegation as to the absence of the
representative from the DOJ, the CA ruled that this was not fatal as there was no
showing that there was a break in the chain of custody of the seized items.~
9
Id. at 45.
io Id.
11
Id. at 27-30.
12
Id. at 30-34.
13
Ro//o,pp.8-12.
14
Id. at 12.
Decision 5 G.R. No. 233535

Unfazed, accused-appellant filed the instant appeal.

Our Ruling

The appeal is meritorious.

Accused-appellant contends that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt


beyond reasonable doubt as there was failure on the part of the police officers to
preserve the integrity of the alleged seized items given that the conduct of the
inventory and the taking of the photographs were not done in the presence of a
representative from the DOJ. 15

The Court agrees with accused-appellant.

Section 21, Article II of RA 9165, 16 the law applicable at the time of the
commission of the crime charged, provides -

SECTION. 21. Custody and Disposition of Confiscated, Seized, and/or


Surrendered Dangerous Drugs, Plant Sources of Dangerous Drugs,
Controlled Precursors and Essential Chemicals,
Instruments/Paraphernalia and/or Laboratory Equipment. -The PDEA
shall take charge and have custody of all dangerous drugs, plant sources of
dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals, as well as
instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment so confiscated,
seized and/or surrendered, for proper disposition in the following manner:

(1) The apprehending team having initial custody and control of the drugs
shall, immediately after seizure and confiscation, physically inventory and
photograph the same in the presence of the accused or the person/s from
whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative
or counsel, a representative from the media and the [DOJ], and any
elected public official who shall be required to sign the copies of the
inventory and be given a copy thereof. Provided, that the physical inventory
and photograph shall be conducted at the place where the search warrant is
served; or at the nearest police station or at the nearest office
of the apprehending officer/team, whichever is practicable, in case of
warrantless seizures; Provided, further, that non-compliance with these
requirements under justifiable grounds, as long as the integrity
and the evidentiary value of the seized items are properly preserved
by the apprehending officer/team, shall not render void and invali such
seizures of and custody over said items. (Emphasis supplied)

15
CA ro/lo, pp. 27-30.
16 AN ACT INSTITUTING THE COMPREHENSIVE DANGEROUS DRUGS ACT OF 2002,
REPEALING REPUBLIC ACT NO. 6425, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE DANGEROUS DRUGS
ACT OF 1972, AS AMENDED, PROVIDING FUNDS THEREFOR, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
Decision 6 G.R. No. 233535

xxxx

Under the said provision, the physical inventory and taking of photographs
of the seized items must be witnessed by three insulating witnesses (i.e. an elected
public official, a representative from the media, and a representative from the
DOJ). They must also sign the inventory and be given copies of the same.

In People v. Lim, 17 the Court emphasized the importance of the presence of


the three insulating witnesses during the physical inventory and the photograph
of the seized items. And in case of their absence, the Court ruled that the
prosecution must allege and prove the reasons for their absence and convince
the Court that earnest efforts were made to secure their attendance. The Court
explained-

Earnest effort to secure the attendance of the necessary witnesses


must be proven. People v. Ramos requires:

It is well to note that the absence of these required


witnesses does not per se render the confiscated items
inadmissible. However, a justifiable reason for such failure
or a showing of any genuine and sufficient effort to secure
the required witnesses under Section 21 of RA 9165 must
be adduced. In People v. Umipang, the Court held that the
prosecution must show that earnest efforts were employed
in contacting the representatives enumerated under the law
for 'a sheer statement that representatives were unavailable
without so much as an explanation on whether serious
attempts were employed to look for other representatives,
given the circumstances is to be regarded as a flimsy
excuse.' Verily, mere statements of unavailability, absent
actual serious attempts to contact the required witnesses are
unacceptable as justified grounds for noncompliance. These
considerations arise from the fact that police officers are
ordinarily given sufficient time - beginning from the
moment they have received the information about the
activities of the accused until the time of his arrest - to
prepare for a buy-bust operation and consequently, make the
necessary arrangements beforehand knowing full well that
they would have to strictly comply with the set procedure
prescribed in Section 21 of RA 9165. As such, police officers
are compelled not only to state reasons for their non-
compliance, but must in fact, also convince the Court that
they exerted earnest efforts to comply with the mandated
procedure, and that under the given circumstances, their
______a_c_t-io_n_s_w_e-re-reasonable. (Emphasis in the o r i g i n a l ~

17
G.R. No. 231989, September 4, 2018.
Decision 7 G.R. No. 233535

Simply put, under prevailing jurisprudence, in case the presence of any


or all the insulating witnesses was not obtained, the prosecution must allege
and prove not only the reasons for their absence, but also the fact that earnest
efforts were made to secure their attendance.

Here, the physical inventory and the taking of photographs of the seized
items were allegedly witnessed by the crew members of lmbestigador and
Barangay Tanods Rodriguez and Caeg. Their presence, however, cannot be
considered substantial compliance. To begin with, although present during the
physical inventory and taking of photographs, the crew members of
lmbestigador did not sign the inventory sheet. 18 As to the barangay tanods,
who were present and who signed the inventory sheets, their presence is
immaterial because barangay tanods are not elected public officials. Also, no
DOJ representative was present at that time. Thus, strictly speaking, the rule
requiring the insulating witnesses to be present during the physical inventory and
the taking of the photographs and to sign the inventory sheet was not complied with.

Since there was no compliance, it was incumbent upon the prosecution to


justify their absence and convince the Court that earnest efforts were exerted to
secure their presence. Unfortunately, no justification was offered by the prosecution.
Neither did it show that earnest efforts were exerted to secure their presence. In view
of the failure of the prosecution to provide a justifiable reason for the non-
compliance with Section 21, Article II of RA 9165, which creates doubt as to the
integrity and evidentiary value of the seized items, the Court is constrained to acquit
the accused-appellant based on reasonable doubt.

WHEREFORE, the appeal is GRANTED. The March 9, 2017 Decision


of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. CR-HC No. 08151, which affirmed the
February 2, 2016 Decision of the Regional Trial Court of Manila, Branch 2, in
Criminal Case No. 13-298732, finding accused-appellant William Rodriguez y
Bantoto guilty beyond reasonable doubt for violation of Section 5, Article II of
Republic Act No. 9165, is REVERSED and SET ASIDE. Accordingly, accused-
appellant William Rodriguezy Bantoto is ACQUITTED on reasonable doubt, and
is ORDERED IMMEDIATELY RELEASED from detention, unless he is being
lawfully held for another cause.

Let a copy of this Decision be furnished the Director of the Bureau of


Corrections. The said Director is DIRECTED to report to this Court the action
taken within five (5) days from receipt of this Decisio~

18
CA rollo, p. 40; records, p. 14.
Decision 8 G.R. No. 233535

SOORDERED.

/4~'
~ O C. DEL CAS~LO
Associate Justice

WECONCUR:

(On official leave)


ALEXANDER G. GESMUNDO
Associate Justice Associate Justice

CERTIFICATION

Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I certify that the
conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case
was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court's Division.